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European Union acts to rein in internet giants

MOMENTUM is building among governments to take action to rein in internet giants such as Google and Facebook. On 23 April representatives of the European Parliament, Commission and Council reached agreement - after a 16-hour session - on the text of a "Digital Services Act" that is serious about regulating them.

The main effect this will have on freelances is to make it easier to demand "takedown" of infringements of our copyright works.

There had been hopes that it would go further to protect and promote journalism. At the last moment publishing companies tried to insert wording to specify that payments must be "fair" - recognising that the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market is not as strong in this area as it might have been. They failed: and in any case their initiative seems to have concerned only payments to them, not a fair share for journalists and other authors and performers.

The directive must now be voted on in the European Parliament and in the European Council, whose members are member state governments. The three EU bodies are also voting on a "Digital Markets Act" to address anti-competitive behaviour by the internet giants.

Meanwhile in an offshore island...

The United Kingdom government is largely restricting itself to measures against undesirable content disseminated by the internet giants. On 19 April an "Online Safety Bill" passed its Second Reading in its parliament, with no MPs opposing it and therefore no "division". The Boll now goes into "Committee Stage" - the main effective place for MPs to propose amendments - and then to the House of Lords.

The Bill has some implications for copyright, and they are weird. It appears to have been drafted by someone who is more familiar with US copyright concepts than UK law; for example it assumes that a newspaper's owner is creator of published content. The Bill repeats several times that it will not assist takedown for copyright violation. The weirdest part is Article 49(10) of the Bill, which provides that journalistic content from a "recognised news publisher" is protected from peremptory takedown if and because it is a copyright violation.

NUJ activists are looking to see whether anything can be done about these weirdnesses. The main focus in briefing MPs and Lords will be the Bill's implications for press and broadcasting freedom. The Bill's definition of a "recognised news publisher" is currently problematic. Until now the NUJ has argued, and UK parliaments have accepted, that the law should deal with work that is done for the purposes of journalism. The concept of a "recognised news publisher" sets up protection for particular companies - and as it stands only companies that publish traditional newspapers. This will need to be amended.